Quantcast

Chemical Industry Lacks Preparation for Extreme Weather, Investigation Finds

Climate
"While roads around our plant are impassable, our ride-out crew has two boats that could be used to carry the crew out of the site," said a spokesperson for Arkema on Aug. 29, 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. EPA

A Houston chemical plant company did not properly prepare for hurricane season, resulting in a toxic accident during Hurricane Harvey last year, federal regulators have found.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board on Thursday released an extensive investigation into the flooding-induced chemical fires at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, finding that while the company's insurers flagged the high potential for flooding a year before Harvey, plant employees were unaware of the risk.


The investigation also found that plant officials based flooding preparation plans on memories of long-term employees rather than more sophisticated estimates, faulted "limited industry guidance" on flooding, and concluded that other plants in the area may be similarly ill-prepared. "Considering that extreme weather events are likely to increase in number and severity, the chemical industry must be prepared for worst case scenarios at their facilities," CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said in a statement.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle:

"Arkema had multiple freezer buildings, six backup generators, and, as a last resort, refrigerated trucks. But the company didn't consider flooding a "credible risk," the report states, confirming previous reporting by the Chronicle.

Officials thought this despite a 2016 report from its insurer, Factory Mutual Insurance Co. (FM Global), stating that the facility was at risk for flooding and parts of it sat in both the 100-year and 500-year flood plains, the report states. FM Global was not Arkema's insurer during Hurricane Harvey.

The board found that Arkema was relying on longtime employee memory of flooding levels. The company's Crosby facility has a 40-year history of flooding, but employees could not remember a time when the plant received more than two-feet of water.

'A lot of people there had been there for 20, 30, 40 years and seen predictive rainfalls of similar amounts and they thought, with what was predicted, they'd be fine,' said Mark Wingard, the board's lead investigator.

That method, he added, is insufficient."

U.S. Chemical Safety Board video about the 2017 fire at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey www.chron.com

For a deeper dive:

Houston Chronicle, Texas Tribune, ABC13, Houston Business Journal, The Hill

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New pine trees grow from the forest floor along the North Fork of the Flathead River on the western boundary of Glacier National Park on Sept. 16, 2019 near West Glacier, Montana. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Alex Kirby

New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there's a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

Read More
Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements. Pixabay / Pexels

By Greg McDermid, Joule A Bergerson, Sheri Madigan

Hidden among all of the troubling environmental headlines from 2019 — and let's face it, there were plenty — was one encouraging sign: the world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

So now what?

Read More
Sponsored
Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More